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... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: Tao of the Dead (Richter Scale/Superball) 

Everything about ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead has always been over the top. Place part of the blame on core members Conrad Keely and Jason Reece, whose grandiose prog-punk has rivaled Muse in the mine-is-bigger-than-yours contest.

Another culprit is Jimmy Iovine, head of Interscope Records, who swore he'd make the Texas group as big as their music. He got close with 2002's widely hailed Source Codes and Tags. Predictably, Iovine and Interscope failed to capitalize, bungled the release of two subsequent albums and were dumped in 2007 in a famously bitchy riposte posted online by Keely.

Truth be told, no sugar-daddy record mogul could have given Trail of Dead a massive audience, because the success of Source Codes gave the band free rein to make largely impenetrable (read: dense) music that de-emphasized songwriting. Tao of the Dead corrects that oversight in the form of a two-movement album: one 11 tracks long (all in the key of D), the other a five-part song series (in F) subtitled "Strange News From Another Planet."

Yes, it's pretentious; that's the point. It's also terrific. Every single guitar swell, synth spiral, apocalyptic wail, rhythmic wallop and multi-instrumental tsunami overlaps or follows the other with no disruption of narrative flow. This makes for both smart arrangements and compelling songwriting. Even the expansive instrumentals of "Strange News" are connected by choruses that induce anticipation.

Overall, it's a lot of wince-inducing ingredients made into something remarkably digestible.

More by Mike Prevatt

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